Matt Wagner’s Musings On Mage's Magic
Jun 01, 2017
by Vince Brusio
Like a lightning bolt from above, the muse hits Matt Wagner to once again pick up the pen and crank out what is now the next chapter for Kevin Matchstick in Mage: The Hero Denied from Image Comics. A 15-issue limited series that will extend into 2018, this new story picks up 10 years after the end of The Hero Defined, and shows Kevin Matchstick at a new crossroads. Creator Matt Wagner explains more about this June Gem of the Month in this PREVIEWSworld Exclusive interview.
Vince Brusio: It’s been about 10 years since The Hero Defined storyline. That’s a long time to pass between story arcs. A new generation of comic fans grew up on their cell phones since we last saw new adventures of Kevin Matchstick. So why the leave of absence? What accounted for the long delay in releasing Mage: The Hero Denied (JUN170617)?
Matt Wagner: Well…ahem…it’s actually been longer than 10 years but that is, in fact, the amount of story-time that’s elapsed. The Hero Denied takes up about a decade after the climax of The Hero Defined and, as we’ll see, there’ve been plenty of changes in Kevin’s world since we last saw him. And it’s not quite accurate to say there’s been a delay in “releasing” this third arc of the MAGE trilogy. Because that’d imply that I’ve had this part of the story done or even planned out for some time…which couldn’t be further from the truth. In the interim years between the various parts of the trilogy, I don’t tend to think about Mage very much. In fact, I try to not think about Mage during that time. Due to the fact that so much of Mage is inspired by events and people in my own life, I don’t want any ideas that I might develop to become stale or outdated from my experiences. I always say that I don’t really decide when it’s time to work on Mage…Mage decides when it’s time for me to take up the pen and reenter that world. And that’s really the way it happens. I’ll be working on my various other projects, having plenty of fun on those, not thinking about Kevin or Mirth or Edsel or Joe or Kirby or any of that particular narrative and then…BANG…suddenly I find that I can’t think about much of anything else. That’s how I know it’s time…the magic just strikes. And I heed the call.
Vince Brusio: Speaking of a new generation of readers, and since it’s been a while since Mage was last published by Image Comics, could you give us the Matt Wagner-version of a Mage synopsis? How would you present a primer to your new series? What do new readers need to know going into this 15-issue maxi-series?
Matt Wagner: Mage is the archetypical Hero’s Journey told as a modern, urban fantasy. Our unlikely protagonist, Kevin Matchstick, is a cynical everyman until he encounters a ragged and beguiling street wizard named Mirth who soon reveals that Kevin is heir to a heroic destiny that he had never imagined. Along the course of his adventures, Kevin gathers a posse of comrades who all aid in his struggle to defeat the dark magic of the villainous Umbra Sprite. At the end of the first volume, The Hero Discovered, Kevin accepts his role and finds himself the wielder of an ancient and mythical power. In the second volume of the Mage trilogy, The Hero Defined, Kevin finds himself paired with a whole new posse of companions, all reborn heroes based on the mythic cycles from a variety of cultures. As they track down and battle supernatural threats together, Kevin is pursued by a befuddled vagrant, Wally Ut, who claims to embody the next stage of Matchstick’s mystical mentorship — his second Mage. Eventually, Kevin’s own arrogance and stubbornness leads to devastating consequences that threaten to undermine his entire struggle against the forces of darkness. The new series, The Hero Denied, is the third and final part of the trilogy. The storyline takes up, as I said, about ten years after the conclusion of the previous series and finds Kevin at a very different place in both his personal life and his role as the reborn Pendragon. The Hero Denied #0 kicks things off in July and is a half-sized issue that features the third “Interlude,” a motif I’ve traditionally used to bridge the gap between the various Books of the trilogy. It’s a great jumping-on spot for new readers and an exciting fresh return to the world of MAGE for longtime fans.
Vince Brusio: So the opening few pages we see on page 189 of the June PREVIEWS catalog shows that Kevin has now given in to the dark side of the Force. Meaning: he’s a Dad now. His son is one of the focal points in his life, and he appears to have taken his responsibilities to heart. Is any of this day-to-day drama drawn from your personal life? Are there any trails of bread crumbs in this story that lead directly to the life of Mr. Matt Wagner?
Matt Wagner: Ha! Rather than just a trail of bread crumbs, it’s more like loaves and loaves and loaves of bread…in fact, it’s a whole bakery spawned from the over-heated oven of my own sweltering imagination. Seriously, every situation and character in Mage is directly inspired by my own life and experiences. I like to call it an autobiographical allegory. I’ve spoken several times before about how I’d attempted a very different and much cruder version of this sort of tale many years ago, only to abandon it when DC Comics announced the release of Camelot 3000. When that series finally came out, I found it didn’t really speak to me on a gut level and I realized that perhaps I could give this story another go but with a radically changed focus and intent. Around this same time, I accidentally did sketches on the same day that changed everything for me. One was of myself but different than any self-portrait I’d done previously, somber and a bit world-weary. The other was of a strange and sprightly character who was part street performer and part urchin. I realized then that the better way to tell this tale was from my own distinct vantage point. I needed to personalize this myth in order to really make it resonate for me…and for other readers. It’s a creative direction that I’ve maintained throughout all 800+ pages of the trilogy’s first two Books…and now, into The Hero Denied.
Vince Brusio: Recently we’ve seen how the legend of King Arthur made its way to the screen again, with actor Charlie Hunnam filling the shoes of the legendary king. It is a tale that has been told over many generations. I remember watching Excalibur on VHS back in the day. So what is it about this mythos that you find so appealing? Why do you fold this ancient mythology into the present moment of “being there.” It’s got to be more than just “telling a good story.” What’s your connection? To quote REM, what’s the frequency Kenneth?
Matt Wagner: Well, I’ve always been a fan of legends and myths, even from a very young age. And, yeah, the Arthurian cycles have always been one of my favorites. Several turning points for my interest in these tales came when I first read Mary Stewart’s classic Merlin trilogy in high school —The Crystal Cave, The Hollow Hills, and The Last Enchantment — closely followed by, as you mentioned, John Boorman’s amazing film Excalibur, which featured Nicole Williamson’s (pun intended) spell-binding portrayal of Arthur’s mentor and mage. Part of what draws me to these stories is the scope and, within that, the various stages of King Arthur’s hero journey. In the first stage, you’ve got a young man who comes from humble beginnings finding he is heir to a destiny beyond his reckoning as Arthur draws the sword from the stone. In the second stage, you’ve got the gathering of heroes and the coalescing of power as Arthur reigns over the glories of Camelot and the Round Table. And then the third stage, where you’ve got the loss of nobility and this powerful hero brought low by his own hubris, all of which leads to the desperate and all-but impossible quest for the Holy Grail and “Le Morte d’Arthur” brought about at the hands of his own bastard son. I mean, c’mon…that’s a truly epic saga! And, like all great myths, a person can find so many touchstones and motifs that both relate to and advise their own life. I mean, obviously, if you look at Mage based on the description I just outlined, you can see the parallels quite plainly. There are two other aspects of the Arthurian myths though that really served to spark my interest in personalizing these tales for my own expression. The first is the fact that Arthur doesn’t really die at the end of his story. Mortally wounded by the vengeful Mordred, Arthur is spirited away by three faerie queens to the mystic isle of Avalon, there to rest until he is called upon to rise again and face down the forces of darkness. So…the idea of continuing that tale seems like an obvious choice, right? The second and, to my mind, most important aspect is the hero’s relationship to his mentor, his guide, his mage. Throughout the Arthurian tales, Merlin plays a vital but fluctuating role in the course of Arthur’s journey. At some points he’s quite front and center, at other times somewhat peripheral and at still other times, notably absent whatsoever. But Arthur wouldn’t have become a hero without Merlin. We can see the same sort of importance granted to mystical teachers in another sprawling epic of our times…y’know, that one that takes place in “a galaxy far, far away.” And thus, the title of my own mythic saga isn’t “Kevin Matchstick”…it’s Mage.
Vince Brusio: With 15 issues to roll out, this book will be in stores past 2017, and you’ll have plenty of opportunities to promote it. Will you be attending any conventions this year to put Mage front and center of panel discussions? Where can fans find you to see if they can pull the sword from the stone, and get an autograph?
Matt Wagner: The Hero Denied #0 ships to stores just in time for the 2017 San Diego Comic Con and so I’ll be at this year’s annual comics extravaganza, signing at the Image booth on Saturday at (I think) 10 am. And we’ll have some special swag for those who come to get their copies signed as well. Following that though, I really don’t have any appearances lined up for a while. I’m fairly far into production of the new series but I really want to hunker down and make sure this entire lengthy project ships on time and delivers the highest quality story I can muster. There will be plenty of opportunities a bit later for autograph signings and con appearances. This is the culmination of a thirty year artistic voyage for me…and I want to make sure I get it right!
Vince Brusio writes about comics, and writes comics. He is the long-serving Editor of PREVIEWSworld.com, the creator of PUSSYCATS, and encourages everyone to keep the faith...and keep reading comics.